Most Common Border Collie Health Issues: How To Care For Your Dog
Some dogs are blessed with strong bodies, potent immune systems, and resistance to many common dog ailments. The Border Collie is one of these lucky breeds – an exceptionally healthy dog that’s built to work, run and play without any health concerns to hold it back. That doesn’t mean, however, that these sweet, agile pups are completely immune to health troubles. Thankfully, staying informed about common Border Collie Health issues, in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise and regular vet checkups, can help loving pet parents stay ahead of concerning symptoms and disease.
The Border Collies that do end up with health complications will most likely face them in one of two areas: physical conditions and genetic problems. The following is a convenient guide on how to recognize and treat these challenges in your Border Collie, including common health problems, breed-specific health issues, nutritional suggestions, and more.
Border Collies: Physical & Genetic Problems
This breed is a truly attractive one: bred and built for speed and agility in as herding dogs, low to the ground, height-weight proportionate, and full of boundless energy. This means that their bodies are built to twist, turn, and jump – there’s a reason they hold many of the top awards in canine agility training, after all. However, just like any other dog breed, Border Collies are predisposed to certain types of diseases and disorders. Read on for common physical and genetic problems found in Border Collies:
Note: If you suspect signs or symptoms pertaining to any of these conditions, it is important to contact your vet’s office immediately, particularly if your dog’s condition presents itself as dangerous or life-threatening.
- Musculoskeletal disorders: As these dog’s age, or even if they’re too exuberant as young adults, their joints get quite a workout. If they land the wrong way or a joint simply wears out, it can lead to painful canine conditions discovered through hip x-rays such as hip dysplasia or osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), a condition where the joint cartilage and underlying bone can develop cracks from accelerated growth as a puppy.
One of the best ways a pet parent can prevent these movement-based injuries is to offer their dog vet-approved supplements to support joint health, and stick to a healthy kibble-based diet with appropriate calcium levels, particularly in puppyhood when too much calcium will lead to OCD.
- Dental problems: While the body, muscle, and organ issues tend to steal the spotlight in discussions of Border Collie common health problems, there are others lurking inside their muzzle. Dental problems are common in Border Collies, likely because they are “mouthy” – they love to chew! A buildup of tartar and plaque around the gum line can lead to cavities and painful tooth loss, just as it does in humans.
Regular dental checkups can help clean away this residue, allowing your vet to take care and product recommendations to keep their pearly whites strong and stable. Again, much like humans, Border Collies only have two sets of teeth in their lifetimes – their puppy teeth and their adult teeth. Losing, breaking, or compromising an adult tooth can mean a lifetime of uncomfortable eating, pain, or soreness for your pup until the offending tooth is pulled.
- Neurological disorders: Although the Border Collie is generally a breed noted for its vitality, they are unfortunately prone to canine epilepsy, a neurological disorder that is the result of an irregular neuroelectric activity. Signs of idiopathic epilepsy include seizures in the form of spasms, twitching, convulsions, and in extreme cases, a loss of consciousness. Idiopathic epilepsy is the most common form of the disease seen in Border Collies. A hereditary condition, IE is usually observed between 6 months and 5 years of age.
- Heart disorders: A congenital heart disease is a common genetic defect that Border Collies are sadly predisposed to, Patent Ductus Arteriosus(POA) is a hereditary abnormality commonly observed in dogs. This heart disease typically leads to an overload of blood on the left side of the heart. In severe cases, it may lead to heart failure and death.
- Hormonal disorders: Another inherited disease that Border Collies are unfortunately subjected to include hypothyroidism, a condition that disrupts the normal production of hormones. You may observe varying signs in a dog affected by this condition, including inactivity or lethargy, weight gain, and hair loss. Once your vet has run a series of tests, if the dog has been diagnosed with this genetic defect, the dog may be placed on medication to regulate their hormonal levels.
Eye & Ear Impairment Issues In Border Collies
Some physical conditions have a strong genetic element in Border Collies (hip and elbow dysplasia, for example), and some sensory problems follow the same troubling path as well. Once again, if you note any of the following disorders in your border collie puppy, be sure to contact your vet as soon as possible to schedule an examination (or if it’s an emergency, a visit to the clinic). Below, some of the most common vision and hearing diseases noted in this breed:
Eyes: For this heavily sight-reliant herding breed, eye problems are an unfortunately common reality. Two disorders appear in an outsized number of Collies, to the end that one is even named after them.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) occurs when the nerve cells that control sight ability in the eye become diseased and die off (atrophy), leaving the afflicted dog with partial or full blindness. The changes typically begin in later adulthood, approximately 4 to 8 years of age, and gradually. The eye itself becomes white and cloudy as the atrophy progresses, and your dog will likely need extra help getting around. There is sadly no treatment for the symptoms of PRA, but you can help your pup adjust to their new normal by keeping familiar pathways clear of obstacles. In the later stages of PRA, you can also ask your vet about the possibility of assistive devices, such as a fitted harness with “feelers” that will allow them to navigate their world by sensation.
- Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA) is specific to certain breeds like the Border Collie and Rough-Coated Collie and has more variable symptoms and results than PRA. Research has shown that not only will the severity of symptoms and outcomes vary from dog to dog (even among littermates), it may also vary between eyes in the same afflicted dog. CEA Collie Eye Anomaly refers to an inherited disease anomaly that causes puppies’ eyes to grow incorrectly and is usually not testable until they are 3 to 7 months of age. The strong genetic component of this genetic defect has caused a number of debates in the Border Collie breeding community: so many of the dogs carry the recently-identified gene that very careful breeding is necessary. With so few “clean” CEA-gene-free Border Collies in the current breeding pool, it’s enough of a challenge that arguments are being made to accept minimal risks, rather than eliminating CEA entirely through breeding.
Ears: Equally important for this herding breeds is their hearing. This acute sense was originally honed through breeding to listen for the sounds of lost cows and sheep, or the call of the shepherd with instructions. Unfortunately, the same selective breeding intended to emphasize this feature also introduced a persistent issue of deafness – one that affects Border Collies in particular. In fact, if a Border Collie puppy is born from a deaf mother of the same breed, they are 14 times more likely to be deaf.
If 100 non-Border-Collie breeds and “mutt” mixes were lined up, statistically fewer than one dog out of the 100 would have any sort of non-trauma-related deafness: 0.025%, to be exact. If the same line up of 100 dogs were composed entirely of Border Collies, nearly 4 of them would have some form of deafness, at 3.6%.
While a genetic test is still being done on which genetic markers are tied to this persistence of deafness, some red flags have emerged. Border Collies with “merle” coats – diluted primary coat colors with splotches of darker colors – are more prone to deafness, as are pups with lighter-colored eyes. It’s true that the occurrence of deafness in Border Collies is still statistically small, but it remains a recurring issue for breeders hoping for healthy, non-impaired Border Collie puppies.
Border Collie Health & Nutrition
As a notoriously active dog breed, these known herding dogs ask a lot of their bodies, requiring impressive stores of energy to jump, sprint, and move at the speeds they love to. That energy comes directly from a dog’s diet, which is why it’s extremely important to select a high-quality dog kibble for these energetic canine companions.
While their owners can certainly supplement a dry food diet with treats and the occasional serving of wet food, breeders and vets alike agree that a well-balanced kibble is the best choice. Even with their natural activity levels, the breed is known for having a little trouble “coming up for air” at feeding time, digging into their chow with the same zest for life as they do everything else. Such dinnertime enthusiasm not only causes issues like bloat (a painful twisting and bloating of the stomach) in the short term, it can also very quickly lead to canine obesity. For small animals, low-slung body type like the Border Collie, this is a grave concern.
Obesity translates to additional pressure and strain on hips and joints already genetically predisposed to issues, not to mention lethargy and general digestive issues. To avoid these problems, it’s best to discuss potential food choices and recommended feeding volume in your dog’s diet with your vet, who will be able to offer specific guidance based on the size, age, and weight of your Border Collie.
Looking Ahead: Caring For Your Border Collie
While it’s virtually impossible to “breed out” every genetic issue posing a threat to this breed, choosing a puppy from a reputable breeder is important. Good breeders test for serious health issues and will not select parent pairings that are statistically prone to a genetic defect like hip dysplasia or produce offspring such as merle-merle puppies with deaf parents. If you’ve welcomed a full Border Collie or mixed-breed rescue in your home and are concerned about health, don’t hesitate to ask for breed-specific health testing. Not only will the results from this genetic test help you step into the role of a proactive pet parent, but they can also help prevent passing on genetic problems if you’re considering breeding your pup.
Despite the risk of an inherited disease and health risks facing the breed, it’s important to remember that Border Collies are wonderful, intelligent, and loyal canine companions that do well with families. Just remember to give them adequate medical care while looking out for types of signs of these illnesses, a well-balanced diet, and plenty of room to run, and, shepherd or no, you’ll have a loving, four-footed friend for life.
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- Acland, Gregory M., B.V.Sc., DACVO, MRCVS. “Retinal Disorders in Border Collies.” (abstract). Border Collie Foundation.org, Copyright © 2002, https://bordercolliefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Retinal-Disorders-in-Border-Collies.pdf. Accessed January 17, 2020.
- “Health and Genetics.” American Border Collie Association (americanbordercollie.org), (no publish date), http://americanbordercollie.org/bc-information/heath-and-genetics/. Accessed January 17, 2020.
- “The Beautiful Border Collie.” Drake Center For Veterinary Care (thedrakecenter.com), (no publish date), https://www.thedrakecenter.com/services/dogs/breeds/border-collie. Accessed January 17, 2020.
- “Border Collie.” Vet Street.com, (no publish date), http://www.vetstreet.com/dogs/border-collie#0_k7o7b1dg. Accessed January 17, 2020.
- Meggitt, Jane. “Hearing Loss of a Border Collie.” the nest (pets.thenest.com), (no publish date), https://pets.thenest.com/hearing-loss-border-collie-11994.html. Accessed January 17, 2020.
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